As President Obama prepares to use his executive power to release thousands of felons (serving time under “racist” drug sentences) the Justice Department’s top official in charge of pardons quits rather than let criminals out of jail.
At least someone at the agency charged with enforcing the law and providing federal leadership in controlling crime, has some scruples. Of course, the official statement on the abrupt resignation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Pardon Attorney, Ron Rodgers, is that he suddenly requested reassignment after heading the division for six years. One newswire story quotes a DOJ Deputy Attorney General saying that Rodgers’ departure is “in the tradition” of senior executive service attorneys who ask for reassignment.
The facts tell a different story. As head of the DOJ’s Pardons Office Rodgers clashed with the Obama administration over a controversial plan to release—or reduce the sentences of—convicted drug offenders. It’s part of the president’s effort to end racial discrimination in drug-related sentences. It started with the 2010 signing of a law (Fair Sentencing Act) that for the first time in decades relaxed drug-crime sentences he claims discriminate against minority offenders. The measure severely weakens a decades-old law enacted during the infamous crack cocaine epidemic that ravaged urban communities nationwide in the 1980s.
But the Fair Sentencing Act is not retroactive so the president launched a broad plan this month to help those sentenced under the older, stricter law which required mandatory prison for first-time offenders and a five-year sentence for trafficking offenses involving more than five grams of crack cocaine. This punished a disproportionate number of blacks, the administration says, compared to more affluent whites and Hispanics that enjoy lighter sentences for possessing the more expensive powder cocaine that most blacks can’t afford.
So this week Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new DOJ clemency initiative that’s expected to free thousands of prisoners serving time for crimes related to crack cocaine. The agency expects to get bombarded with petitions, Holder said in a video posted on the DOJ website, and will assign dozens of new attorneys to its pardon office, which is now headed by an Obama team player named Deborah Leff. The clemencies will “restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality,” Holder said, adding that the DOJ is “committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”